A recent surge in COVID-19 hospitalizations on Monday led regional health care experts to issue a warning: The county’s health care system is under high stress and is inching toward being considered severe.

The Southwest Texas Regional Advisory Council devised the three-level system known as the health system stress score and introduced it on Monday. Scores range from normal to severe and are based on the availability of personal protective equipment, hospital beds, and ventilators at local health care facilities.

Over the past seven days, Bexar County has seen an average of nearly 400 cases of the novel coronavirus each day. If that trend continues, said one of the area’s highest-ranking public health officials, the local hospital system could be in big trouble.

“Local hospitals are slammed, and it’s going to be difficult for us if we continue to see [a surge in hospitalizations],” said Anita Kurian, assistant director of communicable diseases at the San Antonio Metropolitan Health District. Local hospital bed capacity is at 28 percent, as 446 people are hospitalized. 

Of those being treated, 124 are in the ICU (down nine from Sunday) and 60 are on ventilators (down four from Sunday). 

Since last week, the number of people being treated in hospitals has more than doubled, the number of people in the ICU has almost doubled, and the number of people on ventilators has tripled, Mayor Ron Nirenberg said at the coronavirus briefing on Monday.

“It’s not just about new cases,” he said, “it’s about the severity of the disease which is growing with the case numbers.”

The Bexar County coronavirus caseload jumped to 7,156 on Monday, with 274 more residents testing positive for the virus.

On Sunday, Bexar County reported 538 new cases of coronavirus, the most reported in a single day so far. 

Fifty-seven percent of new cases diagnosed over the past week resulted from close contact with a person who was recently diagnosed with COVID-19, Kurian said, and Metro Health currently does not have enough contact tracers to reach out to everyone who tested positive but is working on training more. 

“The infection rate accelerated beyond what anyone expected, and we don’t know when it will slow down,” Nirenberg said. “The biggest message here is that the ability to control this pandemic is in each of our hands. Don’t do the things we know will lead to transmission. We can continue to enjoy life, albeit a little modified.”

Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff said that he “doesn’t want to see the state close down,” but that loosening restrictions on businesses and expanding more “is going to be too dangerous.”

Eight deputies visited more than 80 local establishments to ensure they were following the facial covering mandate that went into effect Monday. The mandate requires all employees and patrons to don masks when inside. Some of the businesses didn’t have the proper signs out, and some of the employees didn’t have masks, Wolff said. 

Wolff said that the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) will begin shutting down bars that violate social distancing measures and mask requirements. 

On Monday, TABC suspended for 30 days the liquor license of Burnhouse, a Northside bar in the Stone Oak area, because of a capacity violation. 

“When we did our initial ‘Stay Home, Work Safe’ order, we had 70 percent of the economy working and they all had mandatory face masks and were strongly enforcing it,” Wolff said. “People got the wrong signal when businesses started to open back up and we were given a little leeway, but now we have to clamp back down.”

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza

Roseanna Garza reports on health and bioscience for the San Antonio Report.